Is Nintendo Releasing Too Many Games Too Quickly?

Gosh, this looks kind of interesting. What game is this?

A wise man once said that “too much of a good thing…is a good thing.” Coming off the drought that was the end of the Wii U’s lifecycle, Nintendo seems to have adopted that approach for their Switch platform, lavishing game after game onto their appreciative fanbase. While it’s kick-started the Switch to an incredible first few months, I can’t help but wonder if their will be any long-term ramifications to Nintendo’s franchises.

The game that sparked this thought is ARMS, Nintendo’s quirky new take on the fighting genre. The game was generally well-reviewed and seemed to have a lot of hype upon release, and then…nothing. Sure, the game got a major update and Max Brass was released, but beyond that, the buzz surrounding this game seems to have completely disappeared. What happened?

The easy answer is that kids and squids happened. Barely a month passed between ARMS‘s 6/16 and Splatoon 2‘s 7/21 release dates, and most gaming outlets jumped onto the Splatoon hype type several weeks before the game released. The result: We’ve been discussing single-player freshness and gear abilities while ARMS has languished in the background.

For most Nintendo franchises, like Zelda and Mario Kart, this wouldn’t be a big problem: They’ve been around for decades, and are well-entrenched in the minds of gamers. A new franchise like ARMS, however, doesn’t have that history to lean on, and it needs time, space, and attention to establish itself as another arrow in Nintendo’s quiver. Splatoon received the time it needed back when it first arrived on the scene (it had three prime summer months to itself before Super Mario Maker dropped that September), and was able to grow into the beloved juggernaut it is today. Will ARMS be able to do the same in a more-competitive environment, or will Splatoon 2 cut it off at the knees?

Another example: Remember when Ever Oasis was an exciting new Nintendo IP back in 2016? The game came out just over a month ago, and it’s already competing for attention with Hey! PikminMiitopia, and even the New Nintendo 2DS XL. I’m hearing absolutely no buzz for this game, and while its characters seem charming, I doubt anyone will be pestering Sakurai to put Tethu/Tethi in the next Smash Bros. game.

While every game has to contend with some competition during its launch window, ARMS and Ever Oasis are having to fight against fellow first-party titles on top of whatever third-party games are released—it’s a self-inflicted wound! Nintendo’s compressed released schedule means that any game they bring in won’t have a lot of time to establish itself, and for newer franchises that aren’t already held dear by Nintendo fans, it may be  too much to overcome.

In the short term, the issues aren’t causing Nintendo any problems: Switches are still flying off shelves, Link and Mario continue to print money, etc. In the long term, however, I wonder what this will do to Nintendo’s “farm system,” because if new IPs like ARMS end up falling by the wayside, the company will be even more dependent on its existing franchises than it is today. People already complain about Nintendo never doing anything new—could things be even worse in a few years? (Granted, Nintendo’s already got a bunch of neglected franchises that they could turn to—Metroid, anyone?—but eventually people are going to want more, and Nintendo won’t be able to give it to them.)

Thankfully, time is still on Nintendo’s side for the moment, and another large content update or two might help drive the gaming conversation back towards the company’s new IPs. In the meantime, Nintendo needs to think long and hard about its franchise development plans, and how packing games too close together may deprive them of the space they need to thrive.

Splatoon 2: Is It Worth Buying?

Yes. Gosh, this was an easy post to write!

…Wait, you still have more questions? Okay then, fire away!

  • Is there enough new content here to justify being labeled as a true sequel? Not only is there enough new content, but it’s good stuff with no filler.
    • The single-player campaign feels about the same length as the original game thus far, but the ability to use different weapons (and the bonus of using a hero weapon in multiplayer if you beat all the single-player stages with it) adds replayability without making it feel too much like filler.
    • The Salmon Run horde mode is challenging, choatic, and fun as heck to play, especially when teaming up with friends.
    • The Ranked Battles have been changed up a bit to make them more competitive (Splat Zones are in more-contested areas, Tower Control features checkpoints that gave the defending term a bit more time to regroup), and the ranking system has been tweaked to let players skip entire ranks if their skill warrants it (for example, I crushed the competition in C- Splat Zone lobbies and was immediately kicked up to B-).
    • The new maps are great, the old ones are expanded, the gear upgrade system now includes a way to specify what abilities fill those slots…I could go on forever.

Bottom Line: The game definitely earns its 2.

  • How noticeable are the changes that push Splatoon 2 in a more competitive direction? There are two major changes that I noticed:
    • The map designs are a lot more open and…well, square. There’s still a lot of verticality involved, but aside from Port Mackerel, the maps are widened to combat spawn camping and more open in the center to encourage more action (and even Port Mackerel has been widened and opened up a lot). This may give us a hint as to what maps might make the jump from Splatoon to Splatoon 2: Look for maps like Kelp Dome, Ancho-V Games, and Flounder Heights to reappear, while narrow levels like Walleye Warehouse, Arowana Mall, and Hammerhead Bridge will likely get left behind. (I’m curious to see if “split” levels like Bluefin Depot and Camp Triggerfish make a comeback.)
    • I feel like the special weapons have been watered-down for Splatoon 2, and their impact on the game is more subtle than before. (They’re also noticeably slower, in order to give players around you more time to react.) How this makes you feel will be determined by whether you were more often on the sending or receiving end of these specials in the original game.
  • I’m new to the Splatoon franchise! Will I enjoy the game, or just get wrecked by the Wii U veterans? Both, actually. Because everyone is at Level 1 right now, I’d encourage brand-new Splatoon players to start by taking a week or two to master the single-player mode, and avoid multiplayer until the experienced players work their way out of the lower-level lobbies.
  • I’m upgrading from Splatoon! Do my favorite weapons still work the same? If you’re not a roller main, you’re fine: Some of the sub weapons may have changed, but for the most part the weapons still feel about the same. If you are a roller main, however, your re-learning curve will be a bit steeper: In addition to the vertical jump fling (which is a pain to aim) and increased run speed, the weapon seems to consume ink a lot faster than in the original game, and its general fling power doesn’t feel all that powerful anymore. I didn’t find it nearly as fun to play as before.
  • Is there any reason I should not buy this game? Actually, there is: If you don’t have a fast, reliable Internet connection, you should think twice about buying Splatoon 2. Just like the original, the game is heavily reliant on online modes, and Splatoon 2 threatens to be more punitive if you disconnect from a match. Without a network connection, you’re only left with the single-player mode, which isn’t enough to justify the purchase by itself.

Overall, despite some minor complaints, Splatoon 2 is a really fun game that I can’t recommend highly enough. If you’ve got a Switch and a sturdy network, Splatoon 2 is totally worth your time.

So Long, Old Friend: A Requiem For The Wii U

Image From Nintendo

I didn’t want to write this. I’m still not ready to shovel the dirt on Nintendo’s poor-selling pseudo-tablet, even as the Switch train gains steam and Nintendo prepares to pull the plug on Miiverse. The Switch’s portable mode and annoying-placed HDMI port gave me an excuse to leave its predecessor it its exalted spot next to the TV, and the still-small Switch library meant that I was still reaching for the Gamepad on a regular basis.

As The Oracle once said, however, “Everything that has a beginning has an end.” My beloved Wii U’s end will arrive this Friday with the release of Splatoon 2, which will supersede its predecessor and remove the Wii U’s biggest argument for its continued relevance. The remaining few Wii U games I see myself playing in the future all support off-TV play, which clears the way for me to move my HDMI cable over to the Switch dock and relocate the Wii U to my shelf of legacy consoles. (My Gamecube will finally have something to keep it company.)

Few tears were shed over the announcement of the Wii U’s demise—it was one of the Nintendo’s worst-selling consoles ever, and gamers grew frustrated with the long waits between first-party titles (and the total lack of third-party ones). When the history of Nintendo is written, however, the Wii U deserves to be remembered as a great console that laid the groundwork for the company’s current success:

  • A fair chunk of the Switch’s current/upcoming lineup got its start on the Wii U. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Pokkén Tournament DX are enhanced ports of Wii U games, Zelda: Breath of the Wild began its life as a Wii U game, and Splatoon 2 owes its existence to the massive success of the Wii U’s Splatoon. With Smash Bros. and Super Mario Maker still waiting in the wings, I expect this statement to be even more true in the future.
  • The Switch has been billed as all of Nintendo’s past innovations rolled into a single console, but the Wii U’s contribution seems to be the most obvious. The home/portable hybrid idea is the logical extension of the Wii U’s off-TV play, and the Switch’s portable configuration resembles a more-refined version of the Wii U’s Gamepad.
  • In a slightly-out-of-character move, Nintendo actually seemed to learn from the mistakes of the Wii U era. Long first-party game droughts have been replaced by a regular schedule of Nintendo content. Third-party developers have been actively courted for the system, and some of their games (Snipperclips, Sonic Mania, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle) seem to be matching the hype level of Nintendo’s own titles. The hardware has been bumped up just enough to meet modern expectations (60 fps, 1080p, etc.), although the Joy-Cons still seem too overengineered for their own good. The marketing has been much better at explaining exactly what the Switch is and why it’s so awesome, and consumers have responded at levels not seen since the Wii era. There’s an old yarn from the sporting world that says you have to lose a championship before you can win one, and it fits perfectly here: Nintendo turned their Wii U failures into Switch successes.

Console nostalgia is driven by games more than hardware, though, and despite its limited lineup, the Wii U featured some of my all-time favorite games. Specifically:

I wasn’t an early adopter of the Wii U, and even after getting one in 2014, the system didn’t get a lot of activity for the first year or so. Sure, Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8 were great, but they were consistently overshadowed by other games (mostly Pokémon titles), and they were all games I’d already played in some shape or form. Splatoon, however, was a game-changer for me, as it was a refreshing, addictive take on a genre I hadn’t messed with in over a decade. At a particularly rough point in my transition from Kyle to “Dr. Kyle,” it was the nightly ink battle marathons, the Splatfest all-nighters, and all the cool Turf Warriors I met that helped me keep what was left of my sanity. Super Mario RPG may always be my favorite game, and Pokémon Pearl‘s seniority may give it the #2 slot, but Splatoon has earned a place on my all-time game podium at #3.

A few months later, Super Mario Maker granted me powers that I’d been dreaming of for multiple decades, and I sunk hundreds of hours into creating the Mario (and various other characters, thanks to the Mystery Mushrooms) levels of my dreams. More importantly, however, I was introduced to the Kaizo Mario community, which challenged me in ways that the Mario franchise never had. Completing this courses increased my confidence in my gaming abilities, and that confidence began seeping over into other aspects of my life. (After you’ve beaten The Koopa Klown Caper of ’84, review comments on your conference paper submissions don’t seem nearly as scary.) It may not have impacted me in quite the same way as Splatoon, but I’d still put it somewhere in my all-time top ten.

For me, the Wii U and its games came at the perfect time, and captured my attention like no system since the DS (and the Wii U gets bonus points for doing it without Pokémon). I don’t really care that the console was a commercial flop, or that good games were few and far between by the end of the system’s life. It was a bright spot at a dark time, and I am eternally grateful for that.

So thank you, Wii U. Your time next to my TV may be done, but your legacy will never be forgotten.

Splatoon 2: Early Impressions

Why do I always blink in photographs?

Over the weekend, Nintendo opened Splatoon 2 up to the public for a full-fledged stress test in the form of the game’s inaugural Splatfest. My initial Switch-buying stance caused me to miss out on the Global Testfire back in March, so this was my first hands-on time with the game, and after four hours of ink-flinging, I can confirm that the while there are some tweaks around the edges, Splatoon 2 still contains the fun and magic of the original game, at least for the multiplayer mode (which represents most of the game anyway). My specific thoughts are as follows:

  • I’m a big fan of the new map designs shown during the Splatfest. Starfish Mainstage has a lot of verticality to it and includes a ton of nooks and crannies to ink/explore, Inkblot Art Academy reminds me a lot of Blackbelly Skatepark with its central tower and side alleys (though it lacks the slopes near the bases), and Humpback Pump Track has a large central hill for the teams to fight over and an outer ring that lets players outflank the opposition. My one complaint is that the nighttime motif of the Splatfest kept me from noticing any background details that might give the maps more personality.
  • Moray Towers is my favorite map in Splatoon, and the new ink rails offer a lot more options for attacking a team’s base. It makes it a bit tougher to defend your side than before, but there’s nothing more satisfying than sniping someone out of an ink rail. (I’m interested to see how the added sponges change up Port Mackerel, as that map developed a really bad reputation in the original game.)
  • I like the idea of rotating maps during Splatfest instead of sticking withe the same two or three the entire time. It helps ensure that people who can’t stand certain maps aren’t forced to play them all day.
  • don’t like the idea of randomizing your Splatfest for every match, so I’m really hoping that was just a temporary limitation for this demo.
  • I spent a lot of time with the Splat Dualies, and while they’re functional enough, they don’t suit my playstyle very well. I tend to rely on jump-dodging to avoid foes during combat, but the Dodge Roll leaves you ground-bound in kid form, and I didn’t find the roll to be as effective as avoiding shots.I probably won’t use them very much in the full game.
  • On one hand, the 5-6 disconnections/connection errors I got during the event aren’t bad in isolation. On the other hand, Splatoon has been rock solid for me ever since I upgraded my Internet (I see a connection error maybe once a month), so seeing an uptick in disconnections here was disappointing. Hopefully things won’t be as bad in the normal lobbies.
  • Honestly, I was underwhelmed by the new special weapons. Most were just okay, and the Stingray felt particularly useless (you could barely aim the stupid thing once it fired). Would it kill them to bring back a few specials from Splatoon?
  • The Splattershot, Splat Charger, and Splat Roller are still the same weapons people know and love, albeit with the few tweaks. The weapons felt like they consumed more ink than before, and burst bombs in particular felt a bit slower than in Splatoon (all bombs seemed to have a longer throw range, however). I stuck mostly to the main weapons, but that will change once I get my hands on some Sprinklers. (Happily, my beloved .96 Gal/Sprinkler combo has already been confirmed, as has my Quick Respawn Backwards Hat.)

Overall, I had a lot of fun with the Splatfest despite getting wrecked consistently by the opposition, and I can’t wait to try out the full game (especially the expanded single-player campaign) when it drops this Friday. Splatoon 2 seems to have pulled off the impressive feat of staying true to its predecessor while offering enough new material to “stay fresh.”

RPG Maker Fes: Is It Worth Buying?

That’s an awfully brave thing to say to the guy who writes your dialogue…

Think game design is easy? Try messing around with RPG Maker Fes for a while, and see if it changes your mind.

The RPG Maker series has been around for several decades now, but it finally made its 3DS debut this past June with RPG Maker Fes. At its core, the game is essentially Super Mario Maker for RPGs, giving the player a powerful set of tools to design their own worlds however they see fit. (There’s also a free RPG Maker Player that allows anyone to play finished creations, even if they don’t own the game itself.) If you fancy yourself a competent storyteller but not a great programmer or graphic designer, this game is your opportunity to show the world your stuff!

As someone who’s been dabbling in game design for a long time, I had a ton of fun messing around with the tools in RPG Maker Fes. However, if you’re thinking about picking up this game, there are a few important things to consider:

  • If you’re really serious about creating an RPG, you’ll need to put a lot of time into this game. Despite my earlier comparison to Mario Maker, the controls of RPG Maker Fes aren’t quite as intuitive, and the game doesn’t offer much in the way of a tutorial. You’ll need to spend quite a bit of time at the outset just figuring out what the controls do and how to make them work.

Once you do that, there’s the small matter of actually building the world, characters, villains, items, etc. of your masterpiece. There are plenty of canned examples that can be dropped into the game, but you’re still going to have to lay out the overworld, painstakingly detail each town and dungeon, script out your cut scenes, tinker with your enemies to ensure battles aren’t too hard or too easy, establish the skill-learning progression of your heroes, and so on.

As an example, designing a small overworld map, fleshing out a single town, and putting together a brief opening cut scene took me almost eleven hours, and they could still use another coat or two of polish. Bottom Line: By the time you’re finished with this game, you’ll understand why games (especially RPGs) take so long to develop.

  • Be ready to spend a lot of time away from your 3DS thinking about your game. Oh wait, you thought the game ended the moment you turned off your 3DS? Think again: There’s no option in the game that says “Come up with a cool storyline for me”—you’re going to have to do that on your own, and that means spending a lot of time away from your console thinking about how to weave together a coherent plot. (It’s a bit like running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign as a DM, actually.)
  • Don’t expect to create a unique visual masterpiece. The game comes with a surprsingly-limited selection of character, item, villain, and backgrounds sprites, so if you’re an ultimate power-user who wants more control over the game’s look, you’re probably better off using a different tool to create your game (my favorite back in the day was the O.H.R.RPG.C.E).

RPG Maker Fes caters to a very specific crowd, one that daydreams of deep and complex adventures but may not have the technical or artistic chops to build a game from scratch. Members of this crowd (like me) will enjoy this game wholeheartedly, but casual gamers/creators are probably going to want to steer clear of this game, because if you don’t enjoy the actual creation process, the game is just a huge time sink with no real payoff.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to send my intrepid hero off to Port Machado to retrieve some precious cargo for the king’s army. Let’s see, what items should I offer in the weapon shop…

How Concerned Should We Be About Toxicity in Splatoon 2?

Image From Nintendo of Europe

Toxicity has been around for at least at long as humans have. (I can just imagine some caveman telling a fellow hunter “Hey man, could you stop throwing the fight here? You aren’t hitting anything with that stupid slingshot, and that sabertooth tiger is wrecking us.”) When the stakes are high in a team competition, there are bound to be people who openly question whether their teammates are doing what they should do to win. Toss in the relative anonymity and sour attitudes of the Internet, and online team games are ripe breeding grounds for toxic behavior.

Because of these concerns, Nintendo made an explicit choice to not include voice chat when it made its initial foray into the shooter genre with Splatoon. While the game still had a few “attack vectors” for toxic players to abuse (squid taunting, booyah spamming, going after other players on Miiverse), the lack of direct verbal communication kept the game from suffering from the massive toxicity issues that plagued its peers.

For Splatoon 2, however, Nintendo decided to include voice chat as part of its effort to establish the game as a serious e-sport. While this allows teammates to better coordinate their movements in battle, it also leaves players vulnerable to toxic teammates. Given that similar games like Overwatch seem to be going through especially turbulent/toxic periods right now, how concerned should Nintendo be about a similar cloud hovering over Splatoon 2?

I think it’s good news/bad news time…

  • Nintendo has obviously put a lot of thought into their voice chat deployment, and they’ve tried to limit contact between random players. Game producer Hisashi Nogami provided the following quote to My Nintendo News:

“The reason we included voice chat is because we wanted users who already know each other to enjoy the game more deeply using a communication tool that’s linked to the game…Voice chat can only be used when playing with someone you know, such as in private matchmaking; voice chat with someone you don’t know in random matchmaking won’t happen.” (emphasis added)

People are less likely to take potshots at players they know than at anonymous squids that they don’t, so these restrictions are good news.

  • However, the bar to becoming friends with someone via a Nintendo system is pretty low in my experience. I’ve gotten quite a few random friend requests from players who I’ve only known for a few Turf Wars or Mario Kart races, and I tend to accept them without doing a whole lot of vetting. I’ve also sent out a lot of friend requests to Splatfest teammates who I’ve never met, and they’re rarely rejected. (In fairness, I should note that I’ve met a lot of cool people via these random friend requests, so it’s not a completely broken system, just a risky one.) In other words, it’s not too hard to become friends with people you’ve never met and don’t know, and when it comes to toxicity concerns, that’s bad news.
  • Because voice chat is done through a separate smart-device app rather than the Switch itself, there’s an extra cost burden placed on players who want to participate in it:
    • You need a smart device (phone, tablet, etc.) that can run Nintendo’s app.
    • You need a suitable headset if you want to hear both your teammates and the in-game audio.

In other words, not just any random squid can jump into voice chat—you have to make a dedicated effort/investment to receive that privilege. It’s not much of a barrier, but it’s good news from a toxicity standpoint (if you’re going to say mean things to someone, you’ll have to pay extra to do it).

  • For players that don’t want to pay for the privilege of voice chat, however, there are freely-available tools like Skype or Discord that can allow players to communicate outside the scope of Nintendo’s walled garden. While this option requires some coordination ahead of time between players, it’s not hard to imagine people giving out their Skype user names as freely as they accept Miiverse friends. This is technically bad news, but these tools have also been available for players to use for the original Splatoon, and they don’t seem to have wrecked the community yet.

Overall, while I do think that the risk of exposure to toxic behavior is higher thanks to the inclusion of voice chat, the restrictions that Nintendo have put in place (both implicitly and explicitly) mitigate this danger somewhat. We’ll inevitably hear reports about the new voice chat feature being abused, but I don’t we’ll reach the widespread toxicity that games like Overwatch are experiencing right now. The key for players is basically to choose their friends wisely, and be considerate of others when  they chat with them.

There’s no way to completely eliminate toxic behavior, but if we all aim to be more understanding and less confrontational towards our fellow squids, we can minimize its impact and make the game more fun for everyone.

My Thoughts On Traveling With The Nintendo Switch

Hey Airplane Switch Guy, the FCC would like a word with you…

I was excited about my vacation last week for a number of reasons, but one of the more-interesting ones was that it would be the maiden voyage for my Nintendo Switch. My post examining the TSA’s potential impact on the Switch has inexplicably become one of the most-viewed on the site, and I was curious to see how my initial suggestions held up in reality.

So how did things go? Well, I wound up with some interesting and unexpected findings:

  • It turns out that I underestimated one major factor when it came to transporting the Switch: My paranoia over avoiding screen scratches. This paranoia led me to purchase an official Switch carrying case (a generic one, sadly), which required that the Switch be in its handheld configuration with the Joy-Cons attached to fit properly. As a result, all my space-saving ideas from the initial post were useless (although the TSA had been making noise during my previous trips that the Switch had to be X-rayed separately from carry-on luggage anyway). However, the case did its job flawlessly, and my Switch screen survived the trip in pristine condition.
  • Despite the above bullet, the Switch-scanning process was surprisingly painless. I dedicated a specific compartment of my laptop bag to the console, so popping it in and out was easy, and no one complained when the Switch and 3DS (yes, I brought both) shared a bin while passing through the scanner.
  • Example #4,821,032, 774 that advertisements do not reflect reality: Not only was I only one in every airport with a Switch (and I only saw one 2DS the entire trip), no one even noticed when I pulled it out and started playing Mario Kart. Most people in the terminal (predictably) messing around with their phones or tablets instead of a game console, and the appearance of Nintendo’s fancy new hardware didn’t move the needle at all.
  • While I didn’t get an exact measurement of battery life, I will say that I played through 11 Mario Kart cups, a 4-race Vs. match, two game-ending cut scenes, and one 4-set Shine Thief marathon on a single full charge. Granted, the Switch was in airplane mode with the sound turned off, but the key takeaway is that the limiting factor was my game library (I only own Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the system, and it starts to get old after 11 consecutive cups) instead of the battery.
  • Example #4,821,032, 775 that advertisements do not reflect reality: When I tried to detach the Joy-Cons and emulate the Skyrim airplane scene on the plane, I got an error message declaring that using the Joy-Cons wirelessly is not allowed when the console is in airplane mode. (How could the introductory trailer lie to us so?!) Because of this, I used the Switch exclusively in handheld mode while traveling.
  • If there’s one hardware limitation that really annoyed me during the trip, it’s the fact that the dock is the only way to link the Switch to a larger screen. While the console traveled well and the Joy-Con grip was an easy throw-in to my luggage, the dock is too cumbersome for traveling and was left at home…which meant that when I finally got a chance to show off the Switch at my destination, people were left staring at a tiny screen perched on a table instead of the 60-inch TV mounted above it. If Nintendo really wants to take advantage of the Switch’s “wow” factor, it needs to let people show it off without having the dock around.

On the whole, however, I think the Switch lived up to its promise as a portable console, and it didn’t add any extra burden to my air travel. While it won’t fully replace the 3DS until its library expands a bit more (and that’s coming), if Nintendo intends on making the Switch its flagship portable console in the future, the Switch certainly has the power and potential to handle it.